A Brief History of Randallstown


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Colonial Beginnings

Essay By Monty Phair


Christopher Randall, the first of his line in the province of Maryland, settled in Anne Arundel County in the year 1679. There he purchased three tracts of land totaling nearly 1,000 acres, and named them Randall's Fancy, Randall's Purchase, and Randall's Range. Another original land-grant name from that time, Soldier's Delight, still exists in Northwest Baltimore County. Christopher died in 1684, leaving behind his wife Johanna, and his sons Christopher Randall Jr. and Thomas Randall. The family later moved to Northwest Baltimore County (ca. 1719), where the area known as Randallstown preserves their name. According to the 1877 Atlas of Baltimore County, Randallstown was situated seven miles from Baltimore City. Christopher and Thomas opened a tavern on a dirt toll road, which would eventually become Liberty Pike.


The Old Court Road was originally an old Indian trail, then used by rangers from Fort Garrison to keep Susquehannock and Shawnee Indian incursions in check. These two tribes of Indians were occasionally hostile to white settlers, prompting the construction of Fort Frederick in the 1750's to protect settlers along the Cumberland Road.


Fort Garrison was built in 1695, and is still standing, though surrounded by a housing development. It is a small stone blockhouse, but easily defensible against arrows, spears and axes. The Old Court Road was later used as the road to the county court at Joppatown, the county seat of Baltimore County from 1712 to 1768 and the rival of Baltimore City. Because of the heavily wooded nature of the surrounding land, the area became known as Garrison Forest.


Fort Garrison was located off the dirt Conewago Road, which ran from Baltimore to Hanover, Pennsylvania. This was another Indian trail, which was cut into a wagon road in 1737. The Conewago trail eventually became the Reisterstown Road.


Rolling Road, the oldest road still in use in the Randallstown area, was used by area planters to roll their hogsheads of tobacco and dry goods to market, and to barges on the local waterways for shipping to Baltimore harbor, or to the C & O Canal.


Harrisonville was a town in Baltimore County 12 miles from Baltimore City on the Liberty Turnpike, and 15 miles from Towsontown. The town dates from about 1794.


Old Court Road c. 1920's

Old Court Road c. 1920s


Recent photo of Fort Garrison

Recent image of Fort Garrison


Revolutionary War


Christopher Randall Jr. was one of the Colonial Justices of the Baltimore County Court in the year 1723. The family continued to be actively involved in local politics through the next half-century, all the way up to the Revolutionary period.


William Randall joined the Baltimore County Committee of Observation in 1775. The purpose of the committee was to maintain order and prevent social unrest in light of the blockade of British goods. The blockade caused a severe inflation of prices in the Baltimore area, and many businesses went into debt. In addition, a percentage of the sale price of all staple products went to the poor people of Boston, who were suffering under the Intolerable Acts. Merchants, professionals and other prominent citizens patrolled the streets of Baltimore and environs to prevent theft, robbery, looting and arson of property. But by August of 1775, prominent citizens, including Charles Ridgely, William Randall, Ezekiel Towson and Stephen Cromwell, quit the committee. It is not certain whether their political views were too conservative for the Baltimore rebels, or too radical for conservative Governor Eden.


By 1776 the entire population of Baltimore City and county was only 12,000.


Federal Period


The area's largest structure of the time, the Odell gristmill, was built between 1790 and 1795. This three-story stone-and-wood structure was built on Powell's Run Road and Liberty Pike. Though tobacco was the chief Maryland crop of that era, local farmers grew mainly corn, wheat, buckwheat, rye and oats, which provided plenty of business for the mill.


The New Tavern was built by Robert Ward in 1802, which served traffic from the west. The tavern was 11 miles from Baltimore City Hall. The road was widened to accommodate traffic between Baltimore City and the Ohio country, and was first named Liberty Road at this time. Farmers from Carroll County used the road to bring their produce through the Randallstown tollgate to the city markets. It was reported that the condition of the road was so bad that it was an impassable muddy morass for half the year.


The Ward family were devout Methodists, and they held church services in the tavern from 1802 until 1845, when they moved to a new church on the Old Court Road.


In the years 1812-1814, all of the male residents, ages 16-45, were levied into the militia service, mandated by state law, in order to combat the British forces in the Chesapeake Bay, about to attack Baltimore. Monthly militia drill was mandatory. Some of these men served at Fort McHenry, and some on the field at the Battle of North Point.


There were eight members of the Randall family who took up arms during the Battle of Baltimore. Best known was Major Beal Randall Jr., of Nace's Regiment, in Stansbury's 11th Brigade. He led a rifle battalion to distinction during the Battle of North Point. His captain of Company C was brother John T. Randall.


John C. Randall was a private in Company B of the 36th Regiment, and Nicholas Randall was a private in Company D of the 41st Regiment. There was another William Randall in the Baltimore Volunteers at the same time.


Private Aquia Randall was killed during the battle, and his name appears on the War of 1812 monument on Calvert Street in Baltimore City.


Photo of Ward's Tavern

Ward's Tavern



Granite was a village of 200 by 1881, but its roots go back to 1815 when Mount Paran Church opened for the stone cutters and masons who worked the quarries there. This was united with the Granite Presbyterian Church in 1848, with the Reverend T.B. Spottswood as the first pastor. The region was known for its first-class quality building stone, which was used for many of the buildings in Washington, D.C. This stone was used in the building of all of Randallstown's older structures.


The Methodist Episcopal Church was founded in Granite when its cornerstone was laid on June 7, 1878.


Granite Church

Mount Olive Methodist Church


The Baltimore Circuit of Methodist Church was already in existence before the foundation of the Mount Olive Methodist Episcopal Church. The closest churches were Euler's Chapel, at Milford Road and Sudbrook Lane, and the Marcella Church, on Old Court Road west of Liberty Road.


In 1858 construction began on the Mount Olive Methodist Church at the intersection of Old Court and Liberty Road. The earliest marked tombstone in that churchyard dates back to 1784, long before there was a church at that site. The first church would have been a wooden meetinghouse. According to a recent caretaker, there are a few blank tombstones dating back to the late 1600's, when the land belonged to the Miller and Timanus families. These unmarked stones are hand carved and are barely one foot tall. The old church building presently at that location was commissioned in 1858, and the main floor of what is now called the old sanctuary was dedicated on May 19, 1861.


As late as 1960 the custodian kept livestock on the church property. In that year he had three head of cattle, a horse, two goats, 50-75 chickens, two ducks, and other small animals.


By 1881 there was a German Lutheran church in Randallstown.


Photo of Mount Olive Methodist Church

Mount Olive Methodist Church

More on Liberty Pike


That part of Liberty Road between Mount Olive Lane (now Old Court Road) and Marriottsville Road has been known as Randallstown for well over 200 years. It has been very sparsely populated for over 100 of those years, consisting primarily of farmlands, meadows and forests, with a few shops and inns along the road. By 1850 there were a dozen or so houses huddled midway along this section of Liberty Road. There was little reason for a traveler to stop here for anything other than to pay a toll at the tollgate at Church Lane and Liberty Road, or to rest at an inn on the way to Westminster or Baltimore.


The stagecoach fare from the city to any point within 15 miles on a toll road in colonial times was 3 1/2 shillings, and could take over an hour.


A horse railway began operation between Baltimore and Randallstown on February 3, 1874. This was not a profitable enterprise, and the railway was later sold, and the rails taken up.


Local Industry


Another local business was started in 1850, the Choate Chrome Mine. The mine was located on the east side of Deer Park Road southeast of the historical marker for Soldier's Delight State Park. The barrens of Soldier's Delight were filled with surface and pit deposits of the rare mineral chromite. The processing of this mineral became a major local industry, and was unique to the entire region. These mines were finally absorbed into Allied Chemical Company. In recent times, foreign sources of chromite have replaced the local ones. One can still see evidence of the chromite in the orange-tinted boulders near Soldier's Delight.


The Choate family moved to the area from Limestone Valley in 1853. Their three-story house had been built in 1804, after Liberty Road had been made a direct route to Baltimore. The Choate House was originally built as an inn or tavern. Its walls are 18 inches of solid stone and 8 inches more of cement.


By the mid-1850's the Gwynn's Falls was one of the most intensely used water sources in the state of Maryland. There were no less than 20 mills, furnaces and other industries using the waterway. Most of these had vanished by 1903.


Choate House

Choate House

Civil War


James Ryder Randall was incensed over the circumstances of the Baltimore Riot of April 19, 1861. On that date, the 6th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment answered Abraham Lincoln's call for volunteers to put down the secessionist uprising in the Southern states, and to defend the capital, Washington, D.C. Most of the troops passed through the heart of Baltimore without incident, but the last two sections of the regiment were blocked, harassed and attacked by pro-Confederate sympathizers in the city of Baltimore. Three soldiers were killed, and many civilians and soldiers were wounded. These were some of the very first casualties of the American Civil War, and demonstrated the divided loyalties of Baltimoreans.


One of Randall's best friends, Francis X. Ward, another native of Randallstown, was one of the civilians mortally wounded at the hands of the 6th Massachusetts. Randall could not sleep, and so began to write lines of passionate verse by candlelight. The resulting poem was entitled "Maryland, My Maryland", and was later put to the music of an old German folk melody of 1799, "O Tannenbaum", by Hetty and Jennie Cary of Baltimore. This became the Maryland state song.


Liberty Road was used extensively by the Union Army during the Gettysburg Campaign of June-July 1863. It was one of the routes from Baltimore to Eldersburg, Westminster, Union Mills and Taneytown; which were major stopping points on the way to Gettysburg. The Campfield Road got its name from from a temporary army headquarters made on an estate near Liberty Road.


Postwar Developments


Until the early part of this century, Liberty Road was paved with cobblestone and was full of pits, ruts and potholes which were eventually repaired by the various turnpike companies which charged tolls for anyone using it. This was some improvement over the earlier dirt wagon track, but it was reported in the local papers that the Liberty Pike was still impassable about half the year, especially during the spring thaw. The Western Maryland Railroad was just beginning to make a rail connection between Baltimore and Westminster in the 1860's but, as Randallstown was not located directly between those two places, it was never made a stopping point.


In 1860, the Baltimore-Liberty Turnpike Company was formed, which built a new road from Carroll County to Liberty Heights and Garrison Forest Road.


In 1869, Randallstown resident William Chapman Odell operated a stagecoach from North Branch to Baltimore. On school days he transported his two daughters to the tollgate. From there, young Jessie, age 8, and Alice, age 6, would have to walk a half-mile down the even narrower McDonogh Lane to the one-room schoolhouse taught by Robert Breckinridge Chapman, their father's cousin. This was the first school in Randallstown.


The McDonogh School was first opened on November 21, 1873, with 21 pupils under W. Allen, principal. The school flourished and, today, there are over 1,200 students attending.


A general view of the McDonogh School farm outbuildings at Owings Mills.

Diverse Community


By 1870 there were two one-room schools for African-Americans in the area. One school was located in Randallstown, with Henry W. Hewlett listed as teacher. The other school was in Granite, taught by Addison L. Minor. These schools served the children of families employed in the chromite and granite mines, and foundries and mills in the area.


The first Catholic masses were served by Jesuit seminarians from Woodstock, and services were held at the New Tavern in 1876 for the employees of the Choate chrome mines. These parishioners later attended the Holy Family Church on Liberty Road, established later that year as a mission church to Northwest Baltimore. The Catholic community continued to grow, and the new Holy Family Church was opened on Christmas Eve, 1960.


The 1877 Baltimore County Atlas relates the following information regarding the Second District of Baltimore County:


"The Second District is situated in the western part of the county, adjoining Howard and Carroll Counties, and is bounded on the south by the First District, on the east by the Third District, and the north by the Fourth District.


"The Western Maryland Railroad runs along its eastern border, and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad runs along its western side. The Liberty Turnpike runs through the centre of the District from east to west for a distance of 9 1/2 miles. The surface is rolling and the soil fertile; large and well-cultivated farms are numerous. Great quantities of granite are obtained from the southern part. Extensive chrome mines are worked in the western part. Churches and schools are numerous and well conducted.


"Water-power is abundant and on the Patapsco [and Gwynn's] Falls.


"The McDonough Institute and Woodstock College are located in the District. Randallstown, Harrisonville, North Branch, Rockdale and Granite are growing places. This is one of the most flourishing and rapidly growing places in the county."


By 1880 Randallstown was a thriving community, numbering 150 souls. The population of the Second District of Baltimore County totaled 3,127 people. This village then boasted two physicians, three blacksmiths, three storekeepers, and the Randall brothers' tavern. At that time a popular fraternal club, the Knights of Pythias, built a lodge directly in the center of the village. It was a tall three-storied structure, and the largest building on the pike. The Knights were similar to the Odd Fellows and Masonic lodges. On the ground floor were two classrooms, an auditorium and stage on the second, and the third floor was reserved for the Knights' meetings. The lodge was later shared with a trade organization, the Junior Order of United American Mechanics. A Building Association was soon created and met on the second floor of the lode every two weeks. The Hall, as it was popularly called, became the hub of community activities.


The Hall was still in full use in 1905. In order to get there from Baltimore, one took the streetcar from the city and got off at the Confederate Old Soldiers Home in Pikesville. There the traveler would be met by some relative or friend with a horse and buggy, or would walk the remaining five miles. In those days, that was not considered much of a walk.


Photo of Randallstown Town Hall

Randallstown Town Hall

From Liberty Pike to Liberty Road


Once the road was made reasonably passable for cars and other traffic, the development of Randallstown began. Foundations and walls of community buildings, bowling alleys, additional shops, a post office, bank, and another large hall were begun. Sudman's blacksmith shop became Sam Schmidt's Ford dealership.


Brill Company TrolleyTrolley cars were quick to follow the automobile traffic. The United Railway and Electric Company of Baltimore provided a temporary bus service, but the residents wanted something more permanent. In the 1920's came a hybrid type of trolley which required overhead electric wires, but no track. These unusual trolleys, made by the Brill Company, ran on standard rubber tires, just like cars and trucks. This was thought to be a cheaper way of running a trolley into the sticks without investing a lot of money in rebuilding the roadbed and laying track. These "trackless trolleys" ran between Gwynn Oak junction and Randallstown on the Liberty Road beginning December 18, 1922. This single innovation helped to spark the growth of suburbs in Randallstown. The trip of 6.3 miles was covered in only 25 minutes. The fare from Randallstown to Richland was only seven cents, but to continue on to Gwynn Oak Junction, passengers had to pay an additional seven cents.


The trackless trolleys had other problems. Liberty Road was so bumpy that the carriages were constantly damaged, and the cost of repairing them was almost as great as if the money had been spent on laying tracks. These cars were retired after only 10 years in 1932, to be replaced by passenger buses.


Migration to the Suburbs


By the 1890's there was a large German-Jewish population in Northwest Baltimore. They were soon joined by recently emigrated Russian Jews and the Orthodox Jewish community of Eastern Baltimore. The richer Reform synagogues migrated out of the city to Forest Park and Pimlico. In the 1920's there was another migration, with the wealthier folks moving farther out toward Fallstaff and Pikesville. This migration continued unabated, and goes on today, pushing toward Owings Mills and beyond. The first synagogue was Liberty Road Reform Temple, later changed to Temple Emanuel, at Liberty Heights and Gwynn Oak avenues, which was organized in 1955. A second congregation, (Conservative) Beth Israel, was founded in 1956 at 9500 Liberty Road on 10 acres of land. The first Orthodox community centered around Moses Montefiore Emunath Israel at 3605 Coronado Road in 1957-62.


The Randallstown Library was opened by the Board of Library Trustees and Director Charles Robinson in 1967. The local inhabitants were overjoyed to have a large, new facility housing thousands of books and other materials. The previous community library had been a small trailer with very little room for books and staff and no space for a rest room. Staff were obliged to use a local gas station for that function.


The population of Randallstown increased to 33, 683 by 1970.


Between 1975 and 1980 home prices in the area jumped from an average of $30,000 to more than $65,000. Suburban single-family homes in Randallstown became very desirable to people who had lived in city townhouses all their lives.


At the time of this writing, the first modern African-American migration to Randallstown seems to have begun in the 1970's, with several families settling in Kings Park and Briarhurst in the vicinity of Marriottsville Road.


Another wave of Russian-Jewish immigration began in 1975. The wave grew to a giant surge during the Reagan years, as this population grew from hundreds to thousands. Jewish Family Services and Vocational Services actively assisted this group, and the Randallstown Library developed a special Russian language collection to help in the transition to acculturation and citizenship.


The community continues to grow in size and diversity. Though there are larger groups of African-American, Jewish, Russian, and old established families here, there are also smaller groups of Nigerian, Korean, Chinese, Caribbean and other ethnic minorities making their homes in Randallstown. The community is multi-cultural in the fullest sense of the word; and all of the local schools, businesses and organizations reflect this fascinating and dynamic diversity.






Revised: July 14, 2015